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Property taxes are single largest tax for Wisconsin residents

MADISON (WKOW) — Wisconsinites are spending less of their money on taxes overall, but more of their tax bill are property taxes imposed by local municipalities and schools.

According to a new report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum, “property tax levies by municipalities, schools, counties, and other local governments represent the single largest tax in the state” at 3.5 percent of personal income in 2017.

“Property taxes in Wisconsin are seen as too high because that’s the only option local governments have,” said Jerry Deschane, the executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities. “This isn’t a spending issue, this is a how we raise revenue issue.”

The non-profit organization represents 593 of the 602 municipalities across the state, including Milwakuee and Madison. Among other things, it provides resources and lobbying efforts for its members.

Deschane said that are those property taxes remain high, they become a strain on people who don’t have the discretionary funding to re-allocate to their increased property tax bill.

“With a property tax, you can’t defer the third bedroom in your house, you have to pay the whole property tax bill,” he said. “Property taxes are very inflexible compared to people’s economic circumstances.”

University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and sociologist Sarah Helpern-Meekin studies instability in peoples’ lives. This includes the role policy can play in affecting the instability around family members or financial situations.

She said for families working with a more fixed income, including those who are low income, have to make tough choices about where to cut back.

Renters can often face higher rents, but homeowners often must make the tough decision of whether to stay where they are or move.

“The options are often limited,” she said. “You need to pay your property taxes to hold onto your home, so you have to make some decisions about what it’s worth to you to hold onto your home if paying those property taxes is not feasible.”

She said different people will make different decisions, and it’s up to them to decide what feelings they want to tolerate when it comes to asking for financial assistance.

“How is it going to feel to go and ask for help when maybe you never had to do that in your life before,” she said.

Deschane said now’s the time to go to state lawmakers and ask them to change the rules so that municipalities have more options to raise revenue for critical services.

“It’s coming to be that time to look at re-balancing the system,” he said.

In the meantime, Halpern-Meekin said people need to think about the services their local government or school district provides, and if that is worth the increase in tax dollars. She said they should consider if they like how those dollars are being spent.

“You need to think about the services you’re getting and how you feel about those services, and if that’s an area you can take action,” she said. “Whether it’s around property taxes, how taxes are levied, or the use of other monies.”

Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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